8. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven

by Sherman Alexie

Alexie is a Spokane Indian poet and novelist. This one is a collection of endearing, heartbreaking, humorous and ultimately hopeful in a limited way, short stories. Great stuff. I am exploring the stories along with my 12th grade English class. It has been great. They love his writing too but often for different reasons than me.

I think the author photo on the newest edition of Lone Ranger says a great deal about the man. Kind of reminds me of this guy's humor. A lot of pain that humor can make tolerable, sometimes palatable.

7. The Pillowman

by Martin McDonagh

Jesus, this is perhaps the best funniest and darkest play if read. It's brilliant. An actor friend of mine tried to talk me into paying 70 bucks to see the play when it hit New York but everything he tried to tell me about it seemed just plain nuts. So I'm not going to try to explain it here for fear that you'll never see it or pick up a copy.

McDonagh also wrote and directed the movie In Bruges this past year, which was truly outstanding. Grossly underrated. You must see it.

6. Moby Dick

by Herman Melville

Still walking on literary sea legs.

Awesome experience.

5. Into the Wild

by John Krakauer

For years I have had it in my mind to read this book but it kept getting bumped on the list for something else. Alas I ended up renting the dvd, which is based on Krakauer's book. Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" is fantastic. I loved it. That was two or three weeks ago.

Krakauer's spirited account of Chris McCandless's open-eyed, passionate travels and subsequent death in the Alaskan wilderness was an outstanding read. The writer walks a literary tightrope between the distanced criticism of a traditional biographer and the voice of a writer who identifies deeply with the young man.

I am deeply moved by this kid's story. I wish I could have met him along the way. I wish he would have survived because I have a few questions for him.

It's funny, when I think about weather to recommend this book I find myself thinking about the kind of person that would benefit from it, for it is certainly not everyone. It think it's best for those who want to understand what happiness is (which is different from wanting to feel it). The book is not a complete answer, of course, but it will inspire a seeker along the way.

I also think it's a great book for readers who are interested in why many young, bright people put themselves at extreme risk for the sake of knowing or solving something within.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird

by Nelle Harper Lee

What can I say about a book that's been discussed by millions over the past half century? I'll just get personal.

This is yet another book I didn't read when it was assigned in school. It's easy to remember this because I didn't read any of the books assigned, in junior high or high school. I've made up for this lack of reading since and in many cases I am glad to have these first experiences as an adult. My adolescent resistance has merit.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books that I enjoyed immensely over this past two weeks. Ironically, I read it along with my seventh graders, who were also reading it for the first time. They got a kick out of knowing that I knew about as much as they did each step of the way. Our discussions were great as we shared our insights as equals.

I am usually reluctant to call a thing an American masterpiece, but what the hell. In this case it fits. It is so beautifully written: the music of deep south dialects, the charge of intensely felt grief over a dying way of life, the layers stomach turning racism, the awakening eyes of a young girl, the shared pain of an economic depression, and the fantastic suspense surrounding rape, homicide... Christ it's got everything. Best part, though, are the kids and their innocent, loving obsession with the mysterious Boo Radley.

I highly recommend this book, even though everyone as probably read it when they were supposed to.

3. A Man Without a Country

by Kurt Vonnegut, absurdist

Like the folks over at Davids50, I enjoyed this little book of Vonnegut tidbits. But it felt like old territory for him. If you want to read his more powerful collections of essays and short pieces, try Palm Sunday (1981) and Wampeters, Foma and Grandfaloons (1974).

I liked it though.

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

I laughed my ass off a couple of times despite the tragedies of this adolescent's life.

Sherman Alexie, perhaps best known for his novels Reservation Blues and The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, has an incredibly prolific career writing from the world of American Indians today. It's the today part of Indian life and identity that he has been trying to illuminate for us- that they are living, breathing people who exist in the same contemporary world as the rest of us.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is adolescent literature about a high school boy named Junior who is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. He is a misfit and because of that is picked on mercilessly by his peers on the res. Despite this he manages to maintain a long time friendship with the toughest, meanest kid his age. In mean junkyard dog mean.

With the help of a loser teacher at the reservation's high school, Junior comes to realize that he'll never succeed unless he finds his way off the reservation. So he gets himself into the nearest high school (50 miles one way) outside, which is in the all white town of Rearden. So he is shunned on the res for trying to be white and shunned in his new school for being Indian. And all he wants to do is form him own identity and be happy. You get the idea.

The story is told in Junior's very funny, very self loathing adolescent voice. Sherman Alexie's gift is a certain blend of funny and tragedy. He makes understanding human identity and Indian identity great stuff to think about.

I like his novels. But I love his poetry. It's got a straightforward, plain speaking quality... Oh, just read some:

Little Big Man

I got eyes, Jack, that can see
an ant moving along the horizon
can pull four bottles shattering
down from the sky and recognize
the eyes of a blind man

who told me once, The future is yours
and I believed him until he left me
without a campfire, without an axe
to chop down a tree and build myself
a chair, house, cold drink.

Jack, how much pain is thre
in the world? I think there's only one kind
and we all keep moving around it in circles
like clumsy pioneers, over the same ground
until the landscape becomes so familiar
we settle down and call it home.

Seems like everybody wants to be an Indian.
Why should you be any different, Jack?
Still, when you rub the red dirt off your pale nose
your little insanities vanish.
Listen: the proof is glass.
When an Indian looks through a window
it's like a mirror. When the Indian looks
into a mirror, it's like a window.

I know you have dreams, Jack. We all want
an acre of land, love, and a full stomach.
Without that, we couldn't listen to the wind
without anger. But I've been sitting in a cold room
watching stars through a hole in the roof.
That bright star to the north doesn't have a name
I know. Like everything else, it will break my heart.


1. Memories of My Melancholy Whores

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I finished my first book of 2008!

Marquez's newest novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores is a beautifully written narrative in the voice of a ninety-plus year old man (not far off from old Gabriel himself). On his ninetieth birthday he calls the madam of a local brothel- an old friend of his- and says he wants a virgin for that very night.

What ensues is the last waning days of an old man’s life as he stumbles on the reality that he hasn’t had a lasting loving relationship his entire adult life, opting instead for the temporary thrills of whores. He is coming to terms with his life long loneliness despite literally hundreds of relationships.

As is usual with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the pages are laden with a very palatable, often heart gripping romanticism. Loss, loneliness, love, friendship are always of epic proportions. Homes fall into decay as their inhabitants suffer life without love. Old friends nurse the dying to health by mere reminiscence of greater by-gone days. It’s all corny when said this way, and no other writer I know could get away with this today, but Marquez is a master storyteller. Certainly among the world’s best. He puts a spit shine on life. He illuminates the depth and meaning in even the most mundane of lives. He’s certainly done it again in this short novel.

Ever since I met a professor who studies “senior sexuality,” I have been apprehensively intrigued by the issue. I will be sending him this book.


Well, last year's reading was scarce but that's all behind us now.